Security Check Trays Pose Highest Risk of Spreading Respiratory Viruses in Airports

September 7, 2018

Airports provide multiple sites of risk to contract respiratory viruses, with plastic security screening trays posing the highest potential risk, according to new research published in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Airports provide multiple sites of risk to contract respiratory viruses, with plastic security screening trays posing the highest potential risk, according to new research published in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Researchers collected surface and air samples from Helsinki-Vantaa airport in Finland weekly at 3 time points during the peak period of the flu season in Finland. The samples were collected from a variety of frequently touched surfaces, including the toilet lid, the toilet button, and the lock inside the bathroom door; luggage boxes at the security check area; handrails of an escalator and stairs; and elevator buttons, as well as the air at the security check area.

They tested the samples for influenza A and B viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, adenovirus, rhinovirus, and coronaviruses.

“Symptomatic and asymptomatic respiratory tract infections are common among passengers, with potential for transmission to fellow passengers during pre-embarkation and travel, or after arrival at destination, via multiple modes of transmission, including airborne, droplet and contact transmission,” the authors wrote.

The samples found nucleic acid of at least 1 respiratory virus on 10% of surface samples. Half of the samples (4 of 8) of hand-carried luggage trays at the security check area had viral nucleic acid, as well as 2 of 3 swabs of a plastic toy dog in the children’s playground.

The researchers found 10 respiratory viruses at various sites around the airport. The most common virus was the rhinovirus (40%), coronavirus (30%), adenovirus (20%), and influenza A (10%).

Of the 4 air samples the researchers took over the course of the 3 time periods, 1 tested positive for adenovirus.

“This knowledge helps in the recognition of hot spots for contact transmission risk, which could be important during an emerging pandemic threat or severe epidemic,” the authors wrote.

The included some measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission in an airport or similarly high-trafficked hub during an emerging pandemic, such as promoting hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette in areas where patients are in close proximity.

Reference

Ikonen N, Savolainen-Kopra C, Enstone JE, et al. Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airports. BMC Infect Dis. 2018;18:437. doi: 10.1186/s12879-018-3150-5.